Category Archives: The looong run-up to jump over the Channel

Three months

Terni December 10th 2009 - Calais March 10th 2010


7,3 km/h

Will to arrive. Strain, english curiosity, greed. By now feet (or whatever those lumpy potatoes attached to my ankles had become) and legs are insensitive to strain and beauty (or uglyness, it depends). I keep on straightening the route, I go faster and skip some stops. If everything goes fine THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW I’m in Calais and leave France and the continent. It’s been four/five days now since not even the places I visit spur me to slow down (except for the Arras’ gang): insignificant fields, poor and ugly villages peopled by the unemployed miners’ grandsons, Commonwealth soldiers war cemeteries every ten km. On the other hand the weather is glorious: few white clouds, dry cold, wind blowing from the back. Headphones on, play and go, few photos, few chats; not even tea break, ’cause France costed me twice Italy (I tried to explain italian politics to Frenchs. They are astonished, find it hard to believe and, for solidarity, they complain about Sarkozy).

Apart from that I just followed that nice headless dog: he told me about an old fight in Prague, about his life which is a jumper, about that time he interviewed Dario Fo playing an three strings ukulele and counting to ten bullets; he also performed in hendecasyllabic, interrupted by Drugo’s laughter (a quantità infinite), by CSI, De Gregori, Capossela, an unusually out-of-tune Mozart who sings Summertime and by many other wonderful  discordant voices. In one word, radiocontromano. Thank You.

Top pet

Melancoly was brought by rivers.
I did not know it, but the hardest point so far has been the one where rivers stop flowing to the Mediterranean Sea. They explained me that I passed over the ridge where rivers start flowing to the Seine, that goes quenching the thirst of the Atlantic, and not to the Rhone anymore, that caresses Marseille and plonge into the war mediterranean waters. So, after the Alps, one more symbolic and geographical obstacle keeps me apart from the italic sea; the funny thing is that that sea is so much missed by an inhabitant of the only region of the peninsula without costs.

I had to fill my ears with music, something I hadn’t done for 1300km, to overcome the monotony and indifference of the rectilinear spaces I stepped on.Only today I had the chance to dowload the fantastic tracks from Radiocontromano, but it’s better like this, ’cause tomorrow they say it’s gonna rain and I will desperately need them (a special thanks to Patrick, a surfer that deserves a statue, that, among thousands other things, provided me with two days of computer to recover all the informatic burocracy: walking has never been so digital)

Weather changed. It’s not cold anymore; this means that if bars are closed, I’m still disappointed but at least I can seat in front of them and eat my sandwich outdoor without risking to freeze. And sky is grey, which is an improvement: it is not anymore that dirty-white low dome always identical and hopeless. Now it’s grey, many different greys, clouds shapes to guess and moving cumulus; plus, sometimes, a shread tears and Modugno starts to sing.

So, taken a run-up on the Chaumont viaduct, I stepped by to say Hi to De Gaulle and from there I mounted on a cork of champagne slightly sparkling which hit the cathedral; from up there you can see clearly: landscape is still mostly agricultural but fields are greener (maybe they were green under the snow as well), villages more frequent and roads easier.
My shoes keep destroying, but I just can’t abandon them, they deserve to arrive at the destination and gloriously die on english land. The land where my destination went back doing the destination indeed, after a short french visit which, on one hand completely restored me but on the other hand made me feel all the absurdity of keep being far from her; this, and strain and winter and cornichons convinced me to revise the trail, prune it, extends some legs, in short, to accelerate the pace and shorten the path in order to arrive in Calais as soon as possible, give the five to Chauser, jump over the Thames and run till Cambridge to eat fudge till I explode. Here they don’t even know what the Francigena is anyway, I say something like Saint Jacques and they nod satisfied and say bon courage (which by the way is a beautiful and untranslateble greeting). And now I can program less, I always find a solution for the night, days get longer and my legs solid.

Yeah, what the hell, tomorrow Picardie, thirteenth european region crossed. Not bad, not bad at all.

Not even a priest to chat with

I never liked bets and agonism. As a kid I had isterical stomach-aches before swimming competitions and, once teenager, the coach kept me in the bench because, while skillful with the ball, I didn’t have the necessary sport wickedness.

When I write my posts, warm and safe after a hot shower and a snack, usually with a mug of tea in front of the screen, I’m in a good mood; or, at least, in a better mood than a few hours before: possibly in a snow blizzard, on the border of a highway with numb shoulders, wet toes and a lot of doubts in my mind. And it’s comprehensible, it’s easy to indulge to (auto)irony and to joke when the worst part is over and you reached the goal. Today, for once, regardless of the shower snack and nap, I decided to recall the tone of my thoughts during the frustrating walk.
This part of France, the Haute-Saône departement most of all, and the one immediately following, are infinte expanses of fields, alternated by long and straight national roads, driven mostly by trucks, and sprayed by a handfull of ghost-towns: desert dormitory-villages, closed churches and closed townhall, empty streets, never a bar, rarely a room pretending to be a bakery. The civil death. When I ask for explanations to the few humans I meet, always nice and kind what I get are vague disappointed sentences accompained by pityfull gazes for the naif foreigner. To ask for a bar in here is like to ask for telegraph station: things of the past, “well, you know, once it was full of them”. So far, even the most remote and small italian village had the eternal sport bar. Today, on the notice board of the (closed) townhall in a small village, I saw a flyer advertising Shiatsu courses; they got Shiatsu but they have no bar. Shiatsu. Bar. I wonder how is the social life among these people, luckily enough french television is good and the Wii is cheap. The day before yesterday a woman offered me an hot chocolate at her palce, but it doesn’t always go like this.
Saddened by the portrait? There you are, add some wind and snow, an entire region white and wet, not even a single bench where to sit and rest and the winter holidays in french schools. Plus, weather forecast telling similar weeks to come.
So far the first solution was a partial shortening of the walks and some detours to more crowdy towns: this imply anyway some long walks along national roads borders, tiring stetches without pauses not to get cold (that’s way I need a bar, to spend half an hour in a warm place, not to play lotto), hood well closed with consequent reduction of the visibility. Yes, exactly, a shitty situation. I told it to those I met: look, so far it’s been easy, everyone can do the francigena my way. What now?

Pride is another gift I lack, I prefer stubbornness. Walking these days feels more like an athletic competition, even worst, like a solitary training: lots of effort, few human or aesthetical gratification and insignificant small goals. Italy varied more often, Switzerland was short.

I, nonetheless, believe I have to keep going, at least for little Paolo who cried in the changing room and for the slightly older one that missed unbelievable goals in the muddy soccer field (and because I left to many thing incomplete). Because it will be unspokenly beautiful to accomplish it and for hundres of other reasons. But I’m not disposed to keep going like this; because it there is a thing that this travel must not became, this is sacrifice; this certitude contains all the laicity of my adventure. Effort should always be accompained by beauty, pleasure, exchange. This is not tourism, nor holiday, but not even  masochism. To move the backpack 20 km  every day, a bus in enough.

Well, I knew that France would have been tough, but it’s not the same to think it while flying over it on Google Maps and finding myself among its most desolate regions. In the last two weeks I saw just one sunny day; this may also help, ’cause, strange to say, all the fantasy in the world doesn’t help to imagine a blue sky over the clouds. And we mediterraneans usually don’t need it.

Oh, I also burned a pair of sock on the stove and lost my toothbrush.

Farewell, ye mountains

The best ideas on how to write a post come to my mind, of course, while I’m walking. And every single time I tell to myself that there’s no point in noting them, that I will recall them once writing. I never recall them. Let’s know then that the blog your read is way less brilliant than the one I have in mind whilst walking. Too bad for you, you could have come with me.

Switzerland is small. It was soon over. From Sainte Croix, on the top of the Jura, you can see the Alps and they are pretty close. There, clinged to those two mountain ranges and spread on the few plain left in the middle, there is Switzerland, the hole with Europe all around (I refuse to believe that I came up with this definition). Now that I’m back in the €uro zone I already miss it, right when I was starting to understabd their coins (what about coloring them differently?). The last Helvetians I met were amazing hosts (less shy and more open), they are all into the debate about national identity, blurry future and the relationship with us europeans. They got a wonderful country and they left me a big desire to come back and know it better.

[note: if I’m parsimonious with touristic details it’s because I believe that the world is full of specialized guides, Internet most of all. That’s not the point of this blog, may be at the end I’ll give you a list of the most beautiful places. And it will be partial anyway, since – due to my metereopathy – wonderful places looked awfull under the rain and, similarely, ugly spots seemed glorious if blessed by the shining sun. Same thing for photos]

The entrance in France has been definitely unpleasant: no sign to victoriously portait, no police officers to laugh with; on the other hand it snowed heavily and new forms of aquatic life were developping into my shoes. I really felt bad when I decided to hitchhike: it is always a disappointment and a loss, even if it was just for a few miles of national highway, I felt bad till today. Till, in short, I’m about to get back on the road. Weather forecast tells fog and clouds for a week (Italians, never, NEVER, consider a blue sky as a given) but no rain, so I postpone any possible measure for my shoes that, poor them, are not exactly designed to step on 20 cm of melting snow.

The CouchSurfing blast is unfortunately over, here in France I will find sufers only in the few main cities, while in most of the villages I will have to improvise, being them lacking in “francigenous” structures. Let’s hope for the best. I could also have some hard time finding internet connections for a while, so I greet you all and I go discover a bit of France, finally leaving behind the mountains (anyway, so far the thoughest walk was the one to the small Radicofani).

Guiding animal: cat and crow
Winner of the “useless item” award: sunglasses; obvious, I always aim at north-west.
Anecdote of the day: they say that during similar trips, the body losts the weight of the backpack; the brain tends to recuperate the original balance, eliminating the new excessive weight; if I loose the kilos of my backpack, once in Calais they could as well put me in an envelope and send me to Cambridge via mail.